Friday, November 08, 2019

NO, NO, NO - They're Using Vaclav Havel To Sell Guns

Here's the email I got yesterday:

Hey Steve,
Vaclav Havel isn’t just the one man perhaps most personally responsible for bringing down Communism -- he was also cool and with a compelling personal story.
I noticed on your website that you’ve talked about Vaclav Havel in the past, so I assume you’re still interested in the topic, and what better time to re-address his life than the day the Berlin Wall fell -- November 9, 1989.
We recently published Vaclav Havel: The Forgotten History of the Political Dissident Who Founded the Czech Republic which chronicles the life of one of the men who did tireless and often dangerous work to tear down Communism.
When you get a minute do you think you could give it a look-see and let us know how we could make it better?
Stay free,
- Alex Horsman
My post that Alex links to just mentions Havel as part of a long list of Central and Eastern European statesmen asking the President Obama not to forget them because there are other pressing issues like Iraq and Afghanistan. Another post focuses much more on his ideas.  Havel's resistance was much more sophisticated than guns.  He developed theoretical models of how authoritarianism worked, so that people could find ways to fight it - not by shooting at it, but by taking it apart.  Using Havel to sell guns is like using the Joker to raise funds to help hungry refugee children.  Bizarre.

I realize SEO (Search Engine Optimization) folks spend their time trying to get links to their material.  I get comments daily from people in places like India, Vietnam, Ghana, who write glowing praise of a post  in slightly odd English that has some vague connection to a subject in a link they leave. The most persistent topic lately is on my posts that mention vampires, telling people how to become a vampire.

But this one is a little different.  It was an email.  I've gotten things like this before, often asking me to let them do a guest post on my blog.  But this is just asking me for a comment.  So I checked out the article.  What struck me first was that this is a site that sells weapons and ammunition!

That's why I left the url, for the really curious, but didn't put in a link.

The article is about Vaclav Havel and starts:
"Our historical unsung heroes are generally impressive figures. But there are very few one might accurately call “cool.” This is an exception. Václav Havel, the founder of the modern-day Czech Republic (also known as Czechia) is undoubtedly cool by any definition of the word. A political dissident under the Soviet-backed regime, he served hard time in Communist prisons rather than bend the knee to their authority. His moral courage acted as a beacon of hope for the entire resistance movement behind the Iron Curtain."
I never thought of Havel as a hero for the gun set, but reading that paragraph, I can see it.  But, of course, Havel was an intellectual, a playwright, not a gun packing survivalist.  But here he's being repackaged for the rabid right, who would take up arms to overthrow the coming.  From the Atlantic:
"Havel's revolutionary message -- which helped oust the world's second strongest power from his country, but which Americans and in that moment the American Congress have not always been ready to hear -- is that peace does not come by defeating enemies, it comes by making people free, governments democratic, and societies just. "The idea of human rights and freedoms must be an integral part of any meaningful world order. Yet, I think it must be anchored in a different place, and in a different way, than has been the case so far. If it is to be more than just a slogan mocked by half the world, it cannot be expressed in the language of a departing era, and it must not be mere froth floating on the subsiding waters of faith in a purely scientific relationship to the world," he said in a 1994 speech."
But as I read the gun seller's post on Havel, it's relatively accurate.  It talks about his upper class background and his literary career.  It does seem wrong to me, even like appropriation, for a gun seller to use Havel to sell guns and ammo.  And Havel is only one of a nine other "Unsung Heroes" in their Resistance Library.  Others:

  • S.B. Fuller: The Forgotten History of a Legendary Black American Entrepreneur
  • Annie Oakley: The Forgotten History of the Most Iconic American Woman Sharpshooter
  • Edward Snowden: The Untold Story of How One Patriotic American Exposed NSA Surveillance
  • Sam Colt: The Forgotten History of America's Legendary Firearms Inventor and Manufacturer
  • Davy Crockett: The Forgotten History of the King of the Wild Frontier & the Battle of the Alamo
  • Susan B. Anthony: The Forgotten History of the Woman Who Inspired the 19th Amendment
  • Milton Friedman: The Forgotten History of the Godfather of Conservative Libertarianism
  • Vaclav Havel: The Forgotten History of the Political Dissident Who Founded the Czech Republic
  • Charlton Heston: The Forgotten History of America's Favorite Actor and Gun Rights Advocate

Not sure how many of these could be considered "Unsung" heroes.  Havel is pretty sung.  So is Davy Crockett and Susan B. Anthony.  How would Snowden feel if he knew he was being used to sell guns?  I guess he'd say his name had been used in worse ways.  I get Annie Oakley, Sam Colt, Davy Crockett, and Charlton Heston.  They all have connections with guns.

And I guess it's legitimate counting the others as freedom fighters.  But is putting them here simply recognizing them as heroes of freedom or is it a way to coop them and their legacy to promote guns and in the fight against any form of gun control?

I've long believed that if you go far enough to the right and far enough to the left, there is a lot of overlap and anti-authority similarity.  But the anti-government wing of the Republicans tends to be more for a libertarian individual's freedom to do whatever he wants, while on the left it's for more to get the government to respect the rights of everyone, not just the individual protesting.

Maybe that's my biased view.  Or maybe there's ground here for the left and right to discuss some common ground.  I don't know.  My gut reacts strongly to Vaclav Havel being used to sell guns, which is ultimately what this website is about.


  1. This is all so very American; however, don't mind me. It's election season once more over here and we're crazy.

  2. Not many people know that the Czech Republic's unofficial but locally accepted name is CZECHIA, so Alex gets points on that one. However, Havel as "founder" of the modern Czech Republic? I don't know. The country made an almost seamless transition 30 years ago from communism to some form of democracy, with many of the country's leaders simply declaring they no longer were communists. I'm no expert on Czech history, but Havel, as great and seminal a leader as he was, I don't think should be called the founder, nor should any one person.
    But in the meantime, Milton Friedman is not my notion of a hero, sung or otherwise. Steve, I heartily recommend a 2017 book called DEMOCRACY IN CHAINS: THE DEEP HISTORY OF THE RADICAL RIGHT'S STEALTH PLAN FOR AMERICA by Nancy MacLean. She takes on "militant economic libertarians" like Friedman, Charles Koch, so many others, with James McGill Buchanan occupying center stage. It's very well sourced and well narrated, and it connected many dots for me. I can’t rave about it too much. — Peter

  3. Pico, I've just made your comments harder to follow because I took down the comment you were responding to. I was uncomfortable putting up this post. The original letter looked like SEO spam, but the English was excellent and I did want to call out the misuse of Havel's legacy. Alex's comment here - the one you responded to - seemed to be taking great liberties. But, again, it was far more articulate and in much better English than most SEO stuff. But then, as I went through my recent Statcounter data I found someone coming from the comment box at this post at 23:07 last night from Indonesia. That's the time Alex's comment was posted. Indonesia is another place where SEO folks work from. It was, basically spam. Sophisticated spam, maybe, but spam. So I took it down and my response to it. Sorry.

  4. No worries. I AM amazed that spam could produce a comment like that, which I too thought was quite literate. What is SEO spam? I'm not familiar w/ that term. Thanks.

  5. Search Engine Optimization - companies that find ways to put links to their clients' websites. Based on the spam I get, it's mostly people hired in poorer countries with varying levels of English proficiency. I suspect they google topics related to their clients and then make a comment with a link. Sometimes the comment is not at all relevant. Often the comment is a variation of "This blog is so helpful and ..." And sometimes they actually engage in the discussion. For example, I have a post about issues with the airport parking. That post gets spam now and then about parking services at various airports. The Vampire post gets invitations to become a vampire. So they mostly seem human generated. This one was unusually well done.
    And, I started Democracy in Chains but had to take it back to the library before I got too far. I think it is a compelling argument, but this Cato Institute review says it was an employment program for libertarians who are working out all the factual errors. They certainly have an idealogical need to debunk it.


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